He's back! Grant Geissman is perhaps best known as the guitarist whose solo on Chuck Mangione's 1977 hit "Feels So Good" elevated it, at least while it lasted, from pop/jazz confection to something more substantial. He has spent much of the ensuing years releasing albums that, despite being well-crafted, often veered too close for comfort to smooth jazz territory. But those who still have their vinyl copy of his 1978 debut, Good Stuffan album richly deserving of CD releaseknow that there's more to Geissman than meets the eye. Rooted in Wes Montgomery and Grant Green territory, Good Stuff featured Geissman's accessible mainstream writing and playing, and perhaps the best version of Miles Davis' "All Blues" you've never heard.
Recent albums have been more produced efforts, but last year's There and Back Again, with its stripped-down quintet, hinted at a change that's fully realized on his latest disc, Say That! While Geissman remains eminently approachable, gone are the synthesizers and programming that have become synonymous with the featureless face of smooth jazz. Instead, this is an album of contemporary mainstream jazz rooted in the 1960s soul jazz of Green, Montgomery, Horace Silver, and Jimmy Smith.
That Geissman never seems to break a sweat may explain why he's been perennially underappreciated. He's an economical player who always chooses one note over many. But looks can be deceiving. While the soulful title trackan homage to Silver's "Song for My Father"is completely in-the-pocket, Geissman manages to inject one or two "out" notes to prove that he knows all about taking things further, but aims them for delicate tension rather than jagged assertion. "What's the Story?" is a relaxed blues where he delivers a more dynamic solo, peppered with lightning-fast runs. But unlike Larry Coryell, a fine player who always leaves the impression that he's working hard, Geissman feels completely effortless.
Geissman's core quartet, featuring saxophonist Brian Scanlon, bassist Trey Henry, and drummer Ray Brinker, is augmented by a variety of guest keyboard players. On the elegant ballad "Yes or No?" Yellowjackets cofounder Russell Ferrante demonstrates that, like Geissman, he deserves more due, because he's capable of being adventurous without resorting to the confrontational.
The up-tempo "Below the Radar" swings effortlessly, while the nearly ten-minute closer, "Wes is More," ends the disc on the soulful note on which it began, with Geissman moving from Wes-informed octaves to a lithe phrases and vivid chordal punctuations. "New York Stories," with its more contemporary backbeat and sing-song theme, veers towards smooth jazz but, with extended soloing and unassailable group interaction, it avoids the genre's programmed feel.
It's a shame that the words smooth jazz have become an oxymoron. Say That!, with its relaxed pace and easy-on-the-ears approach, is as smooth as it gets. But smooth jazz it ain't. Geissman's clear roots in the jazz mainstream, and a less-is-more style that reveals greater depth, makes Say That! a welcome return to the fold for a guitarist who's always deserved more street cred than he's received.
Track Listing: Say That!; What's the Story?; Point of View; Theme from Two and a Half Men; Yes or No?; New York Stories; Grandfather's Banjo; Bossa; Wrong is Right; Spy versus Spy; Siete; Below the Radar; Wes is More.
Personnel: Grant Geissman: Gibson ES-335 electric and Hernandis classical guitars, Beacon Silver Bell banjo; Brian Scanlon: tenor and soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet; Trey Henry: acoustic bass, tuba; Ray Brinker: drums; Emilio Palame: acoustic piano (1, 7, 9, 10); Tom Ranier: Hammond B3 organ (2, 12), acoustic piano (3), Fender Rhodes electric piano (11); Jim Cox: Hammond B3 organ (6, 13), acoustic piano (4, 8); Russell Ferrante: acoustic piano (5); Dennis C. Brown: Martin 00-18 acoustic rhythm guitar (4); Tierney Sutton: wordless vocal (8).